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TL v57 n1 Public Library Certification Program
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 1



Public Library Certification Program at Jackson State Community College

Scott Cohen

Library Director

 Jackson State Community College

Conference Abstract: Jackson State Community College is in the process of developing an online Public Library Certification program, primarily for library support staff in Tennessee. This presentation will describe the elements involved in creating the certification program and the courses that may be offered.  Questions and suggestions from attendees are encouraged.

Beginning of the Program 

In the summer of 2006, I was asked by my Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Judith Scherer, to begin a Public Library certification course for Tennessee. She had been involved with the beginning of a Public Library certification course in West Virginia at Marshall Technical and Community College. Dr. Scherer felt that there was a need for this type of certificate program in Tennessee, since there was little formal coursework available for credit for library support staff in the state. While certification was offered in West Virginia, Kentucky and other states, Tennessee didn’t have a formal certification program.

I decided that I would contact Dr. Monica Brooks at Marshall, who is the Library Director there and the Head of the Certification program. She explained how she had begun the program and shared with me how she worked to get it approved and subsequently marketed the certification. She mentioned too that the West Virginia State Library Commission had previously held training sessions at Marshall and was on board for the Certification program. Several people at the State Library were teaching the courses.

Then, I did a lot of research about various library programs throughout the country, including the very strong Kentucky program. Every employee in any public library in Kentucky must be certified. Courses are offered through Bluegrass Community College in Lexington. Other states, such as Nevada, Iowa, Minnesota and South Carolina have voluntary or mandatory certification programs.

I then made a visit to Nashville to talk with Jeanne Sugg, the State Librarian, Jane Pinkston, the Assistant State Librarian and Tricia Bengel. They told me of the training that they do statewide through the Public Library Management Institute and through the Regional Libraries. They gave me encouragement to continue and while they could not endorse the program at this time, they told me to do a questionnaire to ascertain interest.

Regional Library Survey

Jeanne, Jane, and Tricia suggested working through the Regional Libraries to find out if the Regional directors felt such a certification program was needed. I sent out a questionnaire to each of the Regional Directors . They asked some of their colleagues to respond also. There were 28 respondents (not all people filling out the questionnaire answered all the questions).

Twenty-five people responded to the question: “Is there a need for such a certificate program?” Twenty-three people answered “yes”.

When asked how many library staff members in their region would be interested in the program, the answers ranged from 23-24 to very few if any, but with most respondents saying from 5-20. Fifteen people felt that Library Boards would be willing to subsidize the education of library staff members while 13 felt that they would not.

Visiting Tennessee Libraries

I had researched many other library programs throughout the country and had an idea of what courses should be offered, but I wanted to get ideas from librarians throughout the state of Tennessee. I set up meetings in Brentwood, Cookeville, Martin, Maryville and Memphis with Public Library Directors and support staff and came away with a lot of suggestions and ideas. Everyone felt strongly that whatever projects were done in the courses should relate to work being done in the students’ particular libraries; in other words, practical assignments. The meetings were very helpful in deciding what should be in each course.

Some of the suggestions offered were:

  • Provide basics of policy structure, so that library staff know how policies are adopted.
  • Teach introduction to genres, such as Science Fiction.
  • Teach how to interpret statistics and how to communicate what statistics mean to funding bodies.
  • Teach how to develop a web page.
  • Teach personal deportment at the front desk.
  • Provide skills in understanding what the community really needs (basics of surveys, etc.).
  • Possibly give credit for pre-existing knowledge.
  • Provide a portable certificate that can move from one state to another.
  • Show how to do outreach programs; librarians are no longer just at service desk.
  • Show how to reach remote users.
  • Provide background on what a library does, and why.
  • Teach some theory.
  • Create assignments that relate to an individual’s personal needs.
  • Use interactive software such as instant messaging, discussion groups, etc. to give a feeling of belonging to a class.
  • Have students meet at least once face-to-face in three locations throughout the state. One day a year have a group meeting of all students. This could be done regionally, so everyone can get to know each other.
  • Obtain Library Board support for the certificate program which would allow staff to do practical projects of relevance to the library.
  • Create a sense of empowerment and confidence in people who take the course.

The Courses Themselves

Next , I decided on six courses that would form the basis of the Certificate program. Based on all the information that I had gathered, I decided that the following 6 courses should be offered:

  • Introduction to Libraries
  • New Technologies in Libraries
  • Cataloging and Collection Management
  • Children and Young Adults services
  • Library Reference Service
  • Genealogy and Local History

I developed a syllabus for each course based on my meetings throughout the state and my knowledge of libraries. The syllabi were forwarded to our college curriculum committee to evaluate. The committee approved the courses.

Tennessee Board of Regents Approval

Then I developed information to use for forms required by the Tennessee Board of Regents to sanction the Public Library certification program. I had to do research about how many library staff members worked in public libraries throughout the state and the future need for library staff.

I hope that the Tennessee Board of Regents will discuss the certificate program at their meeting in June. If the certificate program is approved then the program will begin in August. If the program is not approved, we still plan to offer the courses.

Course Developers

I went throughout the state to find people who wanted to develop the courses online. I found an impressive group of librarians who have accepted the challenge.

  • Introduction to Libraries:  Developed by Thomas Aud, former Library Director at the Jackson-Madison County Library.
  • New Technologies in Libraries:  Developed by Damone Virgilio, Staff Development Manager at the Memphis Public Library.
  • Cataloging and Collection Management:  Developed by Sally Pelliciotti, formerly a Cataloger at the Caney Fork Regional Library in Sparta.
  • Children and Young Adults services: Developed by Bonnie Kunzel, formerly with the New Jersey State Library; currently working in Germantown as a library consultant.
  • Library Reference Service: Developed by Rick Bower, Reference Librarian at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville.
  • Genealogy and Local History:  Developed by Chuck Sherrill, Director of the Brentwood Public Library.

The course developers will receive online training on Desire2Learn courseware,  which is used by all Tennessee Board of Regents institutions to deliver online courses.

Plans for the Future

  • The certificate program may be extended to include academic library support staff.
  • The certificate program will be promoted to library directors as a standard for advancement within a library.
  • An advisory committee will be created to provide suggestions for improvement for the certificate program.
  • The program will undergo an academic audit which will consist of an analysis of the program’s learning outcomes, curriculum and instructional techniques.

The Public Library Certification program has been designed to meet the needs of Tennessee library support staff as they strive to face the challenges of today’s increasingly technological world.

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